WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Peruvian President Alan
Garcia on Tuesday asked
to push for congressional approval of a bilateral free trade pact to thwart an
emerging threat of "Andean fundamentalism."
The United States has focused its
attention elsewhere in recent years, Garcia said,
and neglected Latin America where leftist presidents in Venezuela and Bolivia
have taken power to challenge Washington.
In the Andean region, many voters have turned to
support more radical candidates urging a battle against years of U.S.-encouraged
"There is a new fundamentalism growing in South
America -- Andean fundamentalism," Garcia told reporters.
Bush, during Garcia's first visit to Washington
since he took power in July, pledged to work with Congress to get the trade deal
passed as soon as possible.
Officials did not say whether the pact -- on
which Peru has pinned hopes for boosting its export-driven economy and slashing
rampant poverty -- would be voted on this year. Peru's legislature has already
"He comes to the Oval Office as a friend,
somebody (with whom) I can have good working relations," Bush told reporters at
the White House.
With many in Washington eyeing Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez as a threat to democracy in Latin America, and with
leftist President Evo Morales elected in Bolivia, Garcia's election victory this
year came as a relief to the United States.
Political analysts in Lima say Garcia could be a
counterweight to Chavez, partly because Peru has natural resources that reduce
the appeal of oil-backed investment Chavez is offering other countries.
"We see our role as a country in terms of
promoting democracy and achieving friendship without threats in our region,"
Garcia had been a U.S. foe during his first term
as president, pushing Peru toward economic ruin from 1985-90. Now he is betting
that closer ties will boost investment in mining -- the Andean nation's key
industry -- and eventually help sell natural gas to the United States.
Garcia also needs U.S. help in controlling
spiraling cocaine production in Peru, the world's No. 2 cocaine producer.
Production of coca, the raw material for the
drug, jumped almost 40 percent last year as an eradication program in Colombia
pushed up prices in Peru. Garcia proposed a high-level meeting to relaunch the
war against drugs.
But a free trade deal is Garcia's most urgent
concern because another deal with the United States, the Andean Trade Preference
and Drug Eradication Act, runs out at the end of this year.
U.S. Commerce Secretary
leaving a meeting with Garcia and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, said
no date was set for a congressional vote.
Many Democrats are angry the Bush administration
did not include stronger labor provisions in the pact, and some textile-state
Republicans fear domestic producers could be hurt by the agreement.